Crutches – a story


A fly buzzes aimlessly around the ceiling fan, darting craftily between the blades as the fluorescent lights hum absently to themselves. A police car screeches around the street corner and the blinded widows stare after it. The waitress pokes her head out of the kitchen door and then pulls it back in when she is sighted by the two people seated in the middle of the empty diner. The girl swirls the wooden stir-stick as she stares absently at the faux-wood table. The boy intertwines his fingers and cracks his knuckles, one by one – pop, pop, pop, pop. His eyes wander to the clock and see that it’s still frozen at three thirty-four, he looks back at the table and shakes his head.

“What?” The fly dodges a blade and lands on the base of the fan. Dan’s eyes move slowly up and rest on the girl before him. She tilts her head to the side, her hair falling across her shoulders, he sighs. ‘Shit, I hate it when she does that’.

“Uh, nothin’, I didn’t say anything.”

“I know, neither of us has, and we’ve been sitting here like this for close to an hour.” Head pokes out, looks at the people at table nine, is caught looking and pulls her head back in. The image of the waitress with a turtles’ shell on her back swims through her mind but is lost within another tide.

“What is it with that waitress? She keeps trying to spy on us, and worse than that, I keep catching her doing it. I know it’s Halloween but must everyone be so damn weird?”

“Yeah I noticed her the first time she tried it, and I’ve been ignoring her ever since. We have been here close to three hours Ann, she probably just wants to make sure we don’t stiff her on the tip.” He tries to smile but freezes, far from a grin.

“We really need to talk Dan, I mean really talk. Ya know?”

“Yeah, I guess we do…” ‘Shit, high tide’s comin’, and here I am trapped in a sand castle’

“I…” Before she can finish it the door to the diner swings inward and in walk two kids in costume.

“Trick or treat…”

The waitress hurries out of the kitchen, dropping a cigarette under her shoe as she greets the kids. Her eyes sneak a glance at the kids sitting at number nine, but once again is caught by the girl. She scowls at the girl, refusing to play the part of the guilty party, but it melts away as she turns her gaze to the costumed pan-handlers.

“And what are we children? Are we ghouls? Or ghosts? Or…a prince and princess? Or…”

“Christ lady, we’re Romeo and Juliet, duh…”

“Yes, I see now, sure, sure, but why are you both so pale?”

“We’re Romeo and Juliet after they died…duh…”

“Right. Now take your candy children and run along, Diane has things to do here, customers to serve, and all that. Nighty-night…” The scowl returns. Her fists clench.

“This is it lady? We came all the way down here for this, this shit? What a fuckin’ gip…”

“Now you listen here, scrumbob – the both of you get the fuck outta my place a’fore I carve ya’s like punkins, got it?” And the two are gone into the darkness of the night. Diane looks over at the kids at table nine and smiles widely.

“Anyone for re-fills?”

“Uhhhhh, no. We’re gettin’ ready to go…thanks though…” Dan drops his eyes to the table.

“Leaving already? Well, I’ll bring your check right out then…” Gone.

“Doesn’t it seem that something always happens when we need to talk?”

“Yeah, yeah it does at that Ann, it does at that. Look…” Why now? Why here? Jesus, how am I supposed to tell her I don’t know what I’m doing anymore? What I want anymore? How the hell do I do that?

“What is it, Dan? All night it’s seemed like we’ve both been beatin’ around the bush with this thing, and, and I think it’s time we…we…” The cold coffee becomes a whirlpool as she stirs it madly, her eyes drowning in the muck. The stick breaks, one half left in her hand, another slips into the hurricane.

“Ann, it’s us, no, it’s…shit, I just…” And the witch re-appears magically.

“And here is your check. You can leave the money on the table, I trust ya…nighty-night.”

Dan watches Ann as she stands and shrugs her coat on. She tries to smile but can’t manage it, and her eyes drop to the table. The fly dodges one blade but is caught by another and atomized. Dan rises slowly, dropping a ten on the table as he does. He tries to look at her but can’t. It used to be so easy.

“Re…remember the night we met? I saw you at the Halloween dance at school. You were sitting in the corner of the gym in that Suicide Barbie costume, alone, and you saw me looking and…
“Yeah…I remember. What happened? What happened to us?”

“I thought that was why we were here, to figure that out.”

“So did I Dan, but we didn’t, and we never do, and…and this just goes on. And here we are.”

“So, what now? I love you, I know that in my heart, but I, I dunno if this is working.”

“You don’t seem to know much anymore do you?” The bitterness slips from her tongue before she can stop it, but it leaves a pleasant after-taste.

“I guess I should leave.”

“I thought you had.”

“You were right about one thing, Ann – I didn’t know what I wanted when I came here, but I do now…I do now.” He turns and is out the door and into the night. Her heart tells her to run after him, to keep the candle lit, to give it another chance. But that same heart reminds her of the nights she has spent in the dark, trying to decipher the difference between pain and love. A man dressed as Death stumbles into the diner and towards Ann.

“Wanna date?” He smiles a jack-o-lantern’s grin and collapses onto the table, and into the cold coffee.

The head of the waitress appears again, and the scowl is back. A husky voice calls her name and her head disappears again, and in its’ place is laughter. Ann looks down at the broken stick and then pockets it. The night is cold and empty, and as Ann walks into its heart she smiles.

…chris ringler…10.30.95…

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